Picks and Pans Review: The Pact: a Love Story

updated 06/08/1998 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 06/08/1998 AT 01:00 AM EDT

by Jodi Picoult

How well can you ever really know your own children? Do they have secret lives you can only guess at? Those questions, and their devastating answers, haunt two New England families in Jodi Picoult's engrossing fifth novel.

The Hartes and the Golds have been best friends for years. Their children Emily and Chris were inseparable as kids, and when they fall in love as teenagers, their parents are thrilled. But their happiness comes to an abrupt and brutal end when Emily and Chris sneak off to a secluded field one night with a gun. What happens next is a terrible mystery; the only hard fact is that Emily winds up dead. Did she kill herself as part of a suicide pact, as Chris claims? Or did he kill her, as the police charge?

Picoult has a remarkable ability to make us share her characters' feelings of confusion and horror. When the parents receive that dreaded late-night phone call, their pain is wrenching. Chris's teenage anguish is palpable. Unfortunately, Emily remains a cipher, not only to her parents but to us; her desperation never quite rings true. Still, The Pact is compelling reading, right up to the stunning courtroom conclusion. (Morrow, $24)

Bottom Line: Picoult's deft touch makes this her breakout novel

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